Destinations

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When travel becomes lacklustre

It isn’t often that I feel dissatisfied after a trip, but a recent 5-day one to Khao Lak had wrong written on it from the very start. I’d planned to dive in the Similan Islands, taking advantage of the early diving season, but a sinus-infection (along with a doctor’s warning not to do it) meant that I was on the verge of cancelling the entire trip, only to go ahead the last minute. The hotel I was in was overwhelmingly stocked with Germans; my room had a variety of insects and bees in it and the deck chairs reserved the whole damn day with towels on them, while their owners remained...

Dweebs in Doha

Doha reminds me of Dubai a decade or so ago: a city expanding and changing at a frenetic rate as migrant workers and expatriates flock here to construct its lofty ambitions in the dust and sand. It’s also a hard city to love, with horrendous traffic and red lights that last up to 3 minutes and a plethora of dust pollution swirling at your feet each time you walk. I found myself mostly ignored by men and tried not to feel insulted that many of those who walked around in thobe dishdashas—whether working in the souq or the museum—chose to speak over me and directly to TC instead, when gender...

Tbilisi for the Uninitiated

The Caucasus is a region I had absolutely no clue about, except that it is where Europe and Asia converge, and where ancient man, as anthropologists and linguists posit, first walked out of Africa and into this part of the world. Georgia seemed like the logical choice when I planned this trip, along with Azerbaijan or Armenia. Time and costs narrowed it down to only Georgia and well, Doha, given the logical stopover that Qatar Airways offered. The Travel Companion (TC) bought his tickets separately a few weeks later after suddenly deciding that he wanted to come and truth be told, I was glad for his company. Georgians are hyper-social creatures;...

Wine Education

I was just along for the ride to Kakheti, the richest and most fertile part of Georgia that lies in the shadow of the magnificent Caucasus range. The wine tour that we did with Colour Tour Georgia (and with Gvantsa and Tazo) was more for TC than me, but the journey into the mountains and into Telavi – Kakheti’s old capital – was just as scenic as the one to Kazbegi. Wine tasting was limited to 2 large producers: Shumi and Khareba and both companies are impressive in their own ways. Shumi takes advantage of micro-climates in Georgia, producing wine from different regions where terroir helps shape it flavours and taste. Khareba’s...

Food, wine and revolution

The long road to democracy, a squeaky-clean police force (thanks to a reality show called ‘Police’ to restore its standing in the eyes of the public and a concerted effort to clamp down corruption) and a booming tourist industry that almost everyone is happy to capitalise on pretty much characterises what I saw in Tbilisi – and perhaps to a lesser extent, the whole of Georgia. The Tbilisi of today is a far cry of Tbilisi in 2002, at least according to Paul Rimple, one of the authors and guides for Culinary Backstreets, the food tour company with which TC and I signed up to get a feel of the local area....

The bride who hides her face

“Hello, my friend!” Tazo our driver greeted us with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to like him at first sight. As we found out throughout the day, he knows a smattering of English, ending every sentence with ‘my friend’. His driving skills are unparalleled, so much so that we had a headache by the end of the day trip into the Caucasus mountains. The road out of Tbilisi is scenic, but absolute shite in many places. There are many times though, when the landscape alone makes it worth it and this is possibly one of those times. The Georgian military highway is the only route out of Tbilisi into...

In the heart of the Caucasus

The locals call their land Saqartvelo, whereas everyone else calls it ‘Georgia’, a place (and many men thereafter) named after its patron Saint. For the longest time, it has been a country shrouded in shadowy myths (for me at least), lumped in with the rest of the Soviet states and forgotten about, until the Travel Companion (TC) bought a bottle of Georgian wine years ago. My research into the place started in earnest then. I looked into their ancient language – a part of me imagines this is how Proto-Indo European might have sounded like -, the wine, the gorgeous churches, the mountains, the fabled hospitality of the people…and I was...

Adventure prone

Waking up at 4 am is a hellish experience I wouldn’t ever want to wish on anyone. But the Travel Companion and I did it, in my 4th iteration of what has so far been an annual pilgrimage to Bali, that has now gotten past just scuba diving off the east coast of Bali and off Nusa Penida. I had a great time on Christmas with Jan and Markus (just the 3 of us, it seemed), since tourist numbers are madly erratic for this period. But perhaps what made it worth it as always, was the accidental conversations I fall into during these journeys. Jan and I spoke at length...

Beyond the culinary

The crowds and the smells always indicate that something food-related is near. Well, it’s certainly true of the legendary night markets in Taipei – there’re 14 of them at least, some lesser known to the tourists which locals frequent – that are noisy, bustling affairs of smoke, dirt and well, some delicious finds. We managed only 3 here and if the plan was to eat our way through the streets lined with stores and persistent sellers, there’s really only so much I could stomach when it comes to fried chicken, bubble tea and starchy oyster omelette, let alone consecutive days of this stuff. More traditional dishes do tend to be...

Taipei Eats: A food tour

It’s difficult to know where to begin with the mind-boggling food of Taiwan but one thing I knew when I planned this trip was that it would be near impossible to get around to the places the locals like without having an English-speaking local to bring us around. Going with Taipei Eats for a few hours of walking and eating traditional Taiwanese dishes was a god-send, as was the lovely guide Jean who took us through the maze of streets and wet markets – and straight into the heart of Taipei where shops could be holes in the wall with untranslated menus. The philosophy of Taipei Eats, as Jean explained,...